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The Railers are caught between a lot of talent and a suddenly competitive AVCTL I.
Week 1: at No. 20 Buhler
Much like Newton, Valley Center has plenty of talent to contend in AVCTL II, but the league will be a grind.
Week 1: at No. 10 Maize
West will have to dig deep to find a win against Hutchinson in Week 1. These teams appear evenly matched.
Week 1: vs. No. 22 Hutchinson (at Friends University)
Under first-year coach Mike Vernon, Hutchinson seems to be about a year away from returning to its top form.
Week 1: at No. 23 West (at Friends University)
The Spartans are always a tough test for any team in Kansas. Keeping up in AVCTL IV will be the biggest challenge.
Week 1: vs. Wellington
With a seemingly light schedule, Buhler has a chance to go undefeated. McPherson will likely be the biggest roadblock in AVCTL III.
Week 1: vs. No. 25 Newton
The Greenbacks are an extremely talented team that could contend in the AVCTL and will certainly be a favorite in Class 3A.
Week 1: at Hoisington
The Owls open with a top-end rivalry against the team ranked just ahead of them. That game will tell a lot about their summer progress.
Week 1: at No. 17 Cheney
Cheney brings back enough talent to contend at the top of the Central Plains League again, and that will be on display in the opener.
Week 1: vs. No. 18 Garden Plain
Losing an icon with the retirement of Dave Fennewald will hurt, but Mulvane is always in it, and the Wildcats still have plenty of talent. But Week 1 will be about as tough as it gets.
Week 1: vs. No. 5 Andale
Hesston finished the season as strong as anyone, topping then-undefeated Conway Springs. Keeping that momentum rolling will be key to winning the loaded Central Kansas League.
Week 1: vs. Hillsboro
The Cardinals are a mainstay atop the Central Plains League. After an undefeated regular season in 2017, doubling that will be tough, but doubting Conway Springs often ends poorly.
Week 1: at Trinity Academy
Mending a young defense will be the key, and getting Maize South in the opener will test the Falcons’ progress. But Heights’ offense is as explosive as they come and will keep it in the top half of the City League.
Week 1: vs. No. 8 Maize South
Evaluating the talent, Kapaun seems to be in the tier just behind Northwest and Carroll in the City League, but the Crusaders are legit. After holding a halftime lead in every game last season, finishing games will be the biggest key.
Week 1: vs. Southeast (Thursday at Heights)
Andover will be an eye-popping offense in 2018. Unfortunately for the Trojans, the AVCTL II is the deepest league in the Wichita area. But don’t be fooled: Andover will compete for the title no matter how tough the schedule is.
Week 1: vs. Great Bend
Maize lost a lot of talent from last year’s roster, but the Eagles will bring back athletes at key positions. The gap to Derby atop AVCTL I seems to be closing, and Maize is one of the biggest reasons. The Eagles (9-2 in 2017) will certainly be tested almost every week, including in their opener.
Week 1: vs. No. 24 Valley Center
Campus is looking to build on history after winning its first football playoff game in school history. Even better? It came against AVCTL I foe Hutchinson. The Colts have legitimate All-Metro talent, starting with Quinton Hicks, who has verbally committed to South Dakota State. Those players will need to improve the players around them.
Week 1: at Dodge City
Maize South must fill the gaps last year’s team left. But with a stout offense coming back, the Mavericks will be in contention in every game, starting with the opener at Heights. Maize South moves up to Class 5A in 2018 after a 4A-Division I quarterfinal appearance. It seems that change won’t be too much to handle.
Week 1: at No. 13 Heights
It’s known Goddard sent 10 players to college football last year. What’s unknown is the talent that will replace them. Goddard has a winning culture, and that didn’t change when offensive coordinator Tom Beason was promoted to the head job. The Lions have questions that even they can’t answer yet, and that could cost them a league title, but they will be in the hunt again.
Week 1: at Wichita East (Playing at Wichita South)
This fall might be Eisenhower’s best chance to snag a league championship. With Goddard going through a transition and Maize South coming in, the Tigers will be favorites despite finishing 2017 at 5-6. Eisenhower’s offense will be fun to watch, with a pair of dynamic backs and a new quarterback. And with plenty of defensive talent coming back, especially in the second and third levels, watch out.
Week 1: at Salina Central
I believe there are five legitimate state championship contenders in the Wichita area. Andale made it to the Class 4A-Division I state championship game last season before falling to Bishop Miege. The Indians lost a lot from that roster, but common logic would say moving down to 3A would give them an advantage to take that next step and capture their first title since 2014.
Week 1: at No. 16 Mulvane
If there were any team to bank on going undefeated, I would go with McPherson. With a light schedule playing in AVCTL III, the Bullpups’ league-title chances will come down to a date with Buhler. McPherson returns a first team all-league quarterback, running back and receiver in 2018. They are the only team to do that in the area. The Pups haven’t won a championship since 1981, but this roster appears built to contend.
Week 1: vs. Salina South
Carroll lost more than almost anyone, but the Golden Eagles are coming off a state championship and have created a machine. They will compete in every game, including their opener against Northwest and in Week 4 vs. Derby. Replacing their quarterback, running back and top receiver and filling holes on defense will be season-long challenges, but Carroll would probably be the team to do it. Will they win back-to-back titles? It’s Carroll, so maybe.
Week 1: vs. Wichita Northwest
The Panthers are out for blood in 2018. Coming off a Class 6A title-game loss, you have to feel for their Week 1 opponent. Derby is one of the finest-tuned football machines in the Wichita area. Replacing All-Metro selection Brody Kooser will be a point of emphasis, but with perhaps the best and deepest defense in Kansas, the Panthers are built to get back to the title game again this season ... and maybe just win it.
Week 1: vs. Garden City
Based on pure talent, Northwest shouldn’t lose. With a pair of Big 12-bound stars on both sides of the ball, the Grizzlies offer an attractive balance that makes them a favorite in the City League and in their first season in Class 5A. Northwest has never won a football state championship, and Week 1 will give coach Steve Martin a good benchmark for how far his team must go to make that happen. But with the experience, talent and depth across the board, Northwest is the team to beat.
Week 1: at Bishop Carroll